The first sign of adolescence is the start of puberty, triggered by the release of hormones leading to sexual development. Compared to 25 years ago, puberty starts younger today, and on average begins two years earlier in girls than in boys. Puberty generally takes 2-4 years to complete.
What You Can Do
The dramatic physical changes make many teens highly self-conscious and preoccupied with body image and appearance. Some go through a period of awkwardness. Parents can help their teens adapt to these natural changes in several ways. Parents should respect their teen’s growing need for privacy and not expect them to share all their thoughts and feelings. Let your teen know that he/she is normal, and try to talk openly about the changes he/she is experiencing. Monitor and talk to your teens about what they see in popular culture so they establish reasonable expectations and a reasonable evaluation of themselves.
The Mind Playing Tricks!
Other changes are also occurring in the brain. Just prior to puberty, the thinking part of the brain responsible for reasoning, problem-solving, and impulse control grows dramatically. This area is refined throughout adolescence, affecting how the brain manages emotions, impulses and decision-making.
What You Can Do
The ability of teens to “put on the brakes” on risk-taking and think through decisions is not fully developed. Young teens are also more likely to misread emotional signals, such as mistaking your concern for anger or criticism, which can lead to communication problems. You can help by being patient, listening, avoiding generalizations, staying calm, and clearly spelling out your feelings. Don’t leave any “gray areas” or room for misinterpretation when it comes to expectations. Be direct and specific to avoid any confusion. Sit down with your teen to set clear rules and consequences for violating them.
Trying On New Hats
Emotionally, teens are starting to separate from their parents and many don’t want to be seen with them. Peers are becoming more important, helping teens test new ideas and roles. Close peer relationships are common. Some teens spend hours on the phone and dress just like their friends. Many teens are focused on fitting in and are more likely to take unhealthy risks in order to be accepted by peers. Images from entertainment and advertising media may also play a powerful role in shaping teens’ appearance and behavior. It’s not uncommon for bullying and teasing to intensify, making school and other social activities painful for some teens.
What You Can Do
Teens still say that parents are the biggest influence in their lives. However, peers are growing in importance and your teen is still learning to control impulses. So you need to provide firm guidance on risky behaviors, such as alcohol and other drug use, violence, and sex. Prepare your teen so he/she can resist pressures of drug use or other risk-taking. Respect the importance of friends, but try to stay connected and involved. Maintain family traditions and involve other trusted adults in your teen’s life. Spend time talking with your teen every day and continue being active in his/her school and activities. Monitor and set limits on your teen’s use of media and talk about unhealthy messages in popular media. If you suspect bullying is a problem, talk to your teen. Be positive and accepting, and acknowledge that the bullying is not his/her fault. Get your teen’s input on how to address the problem and if needed, get help from school officials.
From Cooties to Cute
Teens start to have some romantic interests, interacting mainly over the phone, over the Internet or at school. They may begin pushing parents to allow them to date. Shyness, blushing, modesty and quick embarrassment are normal.
What You Can Do
Parents should establish an age for dating and hold to it, but allow room for negotiation. For example, parents may want to encourage group dating for younger teens or offer to host a BBQ or organize other get-togethers. This gives you the chance to plan something with your teen and meet his/her friends. During these early dating years, parents should also set curfews and encourage teens to check in at various times.
The above information from TheAntiDrug.com, is brought to you by the South Bay Coalition and the Manhattan Beach Police Department. The South Bay Coalition www.sbcoalition.com is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth. To order our booklet: A Parent’s Guide To The Prevention Of Alcohol And Other Drugs, please visit our website or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org